- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First a few patrons showed up to her coffeehouse shows in San Diego. Then a few dozen. Then it was standing-room only. Soon she was taking calls from interested music labels.

In 1995 Alaska native Jewel’s debut album, “Pieces of You,” was drawing raves and sales galore when she was but 21. The album, certified platinum 12 times over, made the single-named artist (whose full name is Jewel Kilcher) and her rocky life story the stuff of rock legend.

“I was asked to do a movie [about my life] when I was about 21, and I thought that was the worst idea on the planet,” Jewel recently told The Washington Times of her sudden success as a young adult. “I turned it down, and then they did ‘8 Mile’ with Eminem, and I’m like, ‘I’m an idiot,’” she said with a hearty laugh, adding that playing herself in a film at that time would have been “arrogant.”

The singer/songwriter will perform at the District’s Lincoln Theater Thursday evening as part of her “Picking Up the Pieces” tour, the album a sort of spiritual sequel to her smash debut from two decades earlier.

Jewel is taking a far more measured approach to touring this time out, only taking to stages Thursdays through Saturdays, which she said allows her both time to rest and to spend more time with her son, Kase.

“I really don’t like being on the road,” the singer offers bluntly, adding that doing 20 shows in 20 days for her 2013 tour “about killed me.” Her more conservative schedule for “Picking Up the Pieces” allows her to return home in between weekend gigs, while also showing Kase museums on her tour stops — an especially beneficial benefit in the nation’s capital.

In addition to the album, Jewel also put out an autobiography in 2015 called “Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story.” In it she recounts her rather tumultuous young life, which included being homeless in San Diego as a teen prior to achieving radio superstardom thanks to “Who Will Save Your Soul?” off of “Pieces of You.”

“Teens I did know typically ended up a statistic: dead in a ditch or on drugs or a hole or in an [abusive] relationship,” Jewel said of those she encountered on the streets. After refusing sexual advances from a boss, she lived in her car, but when the car was stolen, she too was on the streets.

“I wanted to try and avoid being a statistic, which meant I had to look at nature versus nurture,” she said. “If your nature was very poor, can you re-nurture yourself? My life has been about answering those questions.”

The singer emphasizes that she adheres to a Buddhist mantra that happiness is not who you are or what you have but what you think. She said she wrote “Never Broken” to help others find their own level of spiritual peace and to take account of their own sense of contentment.

“When I looked at my [teenage] thoughts, they weren’t quality thoughts,” she said. “I was paralyzed by fear, so I tried to do an experiment and turn my life around one thought at a time. It’s really empowering to say I’m not going to accept any excuses, I’m going to even my life out.

“So many people say I can’t be happy until I have the right house, or I can’t be happy because I don’t have the right spouse,” she said. “I challenge people in the forward to the book … if you think you’re a victim and happiness isn’t within your control, then this isn’t a good book for you.”

Jewel famously doesn’t go on with a setlist, instead opting to fashion the evening’s show on the fly each night. She also is known to stop mid-song if she isn’t feeling the groove and to invite fans from the audience to help her play and/or fill in lyrics. (The singer unapologetically uses lyric sheets in case she forgets the words.)

“My goal is never to be perfect. I don’t find that interesting, and in fact I don’t even find perfect helpful,” she said of her on-the-fly style. “My goal as a musician isn’t to shock and awe people and make them think I’m some superhuman singer or songwriter, my only goal is to be real, to be authentic, to live vulnerably in front of people. I think that’s how we learn about life, and that’s the best of what music has to offer: It allows us to feel things and see things that we can’t see for ourselves.”

Spontaneity, she said, is much better than perfection as mistakes allow a performer to evolve.

“I love being alive and awake in the moment versus being so rigid and structured,” Jewel said. “So if I forge the lyrics or if I get bored in the middle of a song, I’ll just stop. It usually shocks people [but] then they come along,” she said with a laugh.

The chanteuse has also tried her hand at acting in various films and TV shows. Acting, she said, allows for an exploration of the subconscious states of humanity — what is left unsaid as opposed to openly expressed — often more so than music. This is one reason, she said, she also enjoys writing fiction.

“I’m very fascinated by the psychology of what makes people tick, and I write character-driven songs,” she said, adding fiction writing allows her more time to compose a canvas versus the three minutes of a pop tune.

“We very rarely give words to what we’re afraid of,” she said of the power of art.

With time and age, Jewel, now 41, says she has become less fearful than she once was. She and husband Ty Murray announced their divorce in 2014 but now share custody of their son Kase.

In addition to her music, fans who come to her Lincoln show Thursday can expect stories from her life — as well yodeling, which her father taught her.

Not bad for a girl from Alaska who lived in a van — and had it stolen.

“I wasn’t pursuing music; it’s not what I thought I would be doing,” Jewel said of her younger years and subsequent amazing trajectory. “But then I thought maybe I can make a living, maybe get a cult following,” she added with a laugh.

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